Monday, 16 October 2017


One of them, anyway... proposed by Ralph Sstrzełkowski four years ago, on his blog Lawyer on Wheels

The Pető problem

Some 25 years ago Conductive Education was what at least seemed like the leading approach to cerebral palsy. Parents from all over the world would rush behind the Iron Curtain to the Pető Institute in Budapest to give their kids a fighting chance. I don't think the method ever particularly caught on in the United States. But everywhere else it felt like everyone has heard about it and anybody wanted to try it, often sparing no expense to get to the centre. I guess an ounce of hope is more valuable than gold. 

But something happened to the Pető Institute over the last two decades. Something I don't yet fully comprehend. It seemed that somewhere between the high point of its popularity and today it has lost all its glory. 

I understand why Americans don't know what this method is. But imagine my surprise when I sat down with a journalist from the Poland's leading disability magazine Integracja, talking about my life and my then upcoming keynote address at the Munich Congress, to discover she hasn't heard about it either. When I said 'It was really big in the 1980s', she laughed. Then I realised. The 80s were a really long  time ago. I might just as well have been asking whether she remembers World War II. 

She was too young to know anything about the Pető hype and the Institute seems to be doing very little to remind people that it still exists. It needs to reach out to people. It needs to put together a strong image, a message of hope that says 'We have this method, decades of experience, it really works and it can really help your child'. The problem is, the Pető Institute never needed to reach out to parents. Parents always came to it. But times change. And if you don't evolve, you stay behind. They need strong and aggressive PR. I wanted to say that the Institute needs to think of itself as a product, but it has always been a product. It was the only enterprise in the Eastern bloc that I can think of where you needed dollars for the very expensive stay regardless of which side of the Iron Curtain you came from. Back in the 1980s it was a money-making machine, while in most eastern states it was illegal to have any amounts of foreign currency. 

I guess that decades later the centre could not keep up with how the market and the world worked. We now want information. We want proof, we want research. In the age of the internet we want to be able to compare things side by side. The Pető Institute was used to parents turning to it quite blindly. Not only coming to it first, but asking very few questions. And then the Institute provided very little understanding about what they were doing. At the World Congress on Conductive Education it started making a little more sense. One of the presenters said that it was Pető himself who was protective about his method and told his conductors to keep it a secret. That way all you can copy are the external features, if you will. The furniture. The exercise routines. But none of the ideology. None of the theory.

The secrecy continued throughout the decades. When I was there in the 1980s my parents were never allowed to take any pictures. They saw some of the exercises but were never disclosed the reason and theory behind them. The Pető Institute felt it can gamble on keeping the most to itself but yet keeping people intrigued and interested enough to keep coming back. And it lost. With new methods, new concepts, new research coming to prominence in the information age you have to reach out to your client. You need to sell your product. And as much as you can you have to be transparent. 

The Institute seems to be sitting on decades and decades of success stories and experience. Where are the publications? The case studies? The research? The comparison of data over time? It seems that the Conductive Education publications that appear have no connection to the Institute itself. It is a number of often prominent, passionate, private people who dedicate their time and put things together, often in a semi-amateur fashion, wanting to keep the legacy alive. 

And where is the Institute in this? Shouldn't it want to save itself the most? Shouldn't it be doing all the ground-work. Setting up congresses, commissioning research, publishing in a multitude of languages, bringing back success stories for talks, tracking down former pupils. The only, yet limited push that I see always seems to be on Pető the man that made it all come together, not Pető the method. The question is: if everything that happens in the world of Conductive Education takes place with minimal if any involvement from the Institute, can it be saved against its will? 

When will it start to be a lot more proactive on the PR front, to stop itself from falling into oblivion. This requires time. And planning. And money. You can't simply have a press conference these days and expect people to not only come but also care about it. We're bombarded with information. Every day you are competing with news stories about anything from Kim Kardashian's undergarments to terror attempts in Kenya. Whatever you do needs to be thought out and continuous. There was a World Congress on Conductive Education. Sadly the world did not seem to care. The most mentions that I saw of the event was in relation to my own keynote address. But this is because my own foundation, FDAAF, felt that it was important to get the word out. So, we wrote out a press release in accordance with the Associated Press stylebook and then we paid to have it distributed. Many outlets got it. Few picked it up – Conductive Education isn't exactly a hot topic. But the Peto Institute does not do itself any favours by voluntarily eliminating itself from the media.

16 October 2013

Was this fair comment four years ago. Is it still fair comment now?

Recent reblogging of an item by Ralph

Ralph's CE writings

Book of a blog

What, you haven't yet read Ralph's book? On his growing up with cerebral palsy, his life as a pupil at the then Pető Institute, and starting a new, independent life in America? Why ever not? The world of Conductive Education is desperately lacking in the perspectives of adults who have grown up under the aegis of CE.

His book
Never, Never Quit is a rare bird indeed. You can preview it, and order a copy, here:

The book was taken from Ralph's blog, Lawyer on Wheels. His blog continued after the book's publication and remains on line.

Ralph no longer blogs about Conductive Education. He has moved on.


Strzełkowski, R, (2013) The Pető problem, Lawyer on Wheels, 16 October

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